A colourful secret lurks beneath the murky waters of a lake. Would you dare to read the first chapter of the story by Dale Bruton – The Bratislava Intruder?
Eulalia had never felt particularly happy about being a member of the human race. It wasn’t that she hated people – she did not see herself as capable of entertaining hatred toward anyone. She felt an affinity with children, at least the young ones who still retained their glorious innocence of which they were teasingly oblivious, but anyone older by and large left her cold. As an infant she had had few – in fact, next to no – playmates. Her repulsion toward school, or its institutional concentration of socially hierarchical students, quickly turned her into both an academic dropout and friendless weirdo. She never entered a day of education beyond what was legally enforced, and did not mourn a moment of study time that had passed her by.
The only human friends she had ever really had included Austen, the Brontes, Fulghum, de Saint-Exupery, Cayce, Wodehouse, Townsend, Fielding, and in turn Bridget Jones, The Little Prince, Jeeves and Wooster, Adrian Mole, and of course Messrs Rochester and Darcy. Eulalia had had her head in a book for so much of her life, relied upon them to get her through school, the evenings, the weekends, car journeys, public transport, pretty much life in general, it was with a sigh of relief for both her and her parents when her mother’s friend had suggested work at a used bookstore in the town might be of appeal to Eulalia, and might be her only vague chance of something akin to proper employment. Though reluctant at first, Eulalia had quickly been seduced by the dust jackets, first editions, hardback bindings, out-of-prints, must and dust and yellowing and gilded leaves that allowed her, for the large part, to work among some of her favourite colleagues on an almost daily basis. It was also a place of work where indulging in her greatest, near monopolising, passion, did not make her look like she was slacking on the job.
Living in a panelak at the far edge of Petrzalka, in Jasovska, many a time Eulalia took pleasure in walking from the city centre antikvariat home, especially during her favourite season, the spring, when the quality of early evening light, temperature, city wildlife, and invigoration of nature’s reawakening kept her mood relatively buoyed and freed her mind to wander into the topography of her fictional heroes and heroines during the hour or two it took to get to the apartment. Her favourite part was the canal stretching from alongside Jantarova cesta and reaching down to Pieskovisko, the shape it traced resembling a human ear on the map.
She was returning home along its east side path one Tuesday early evening, her pace brisk but not too brisk, for she sometimes wished the journey would never end. The smell and sounds of the season agreed with her senses, the flavour of spring invigorated her soul. It was one of the closest feelings she got to being at one with the world. Birds serenaded, dogs took their owners for walks, the elderly sat on benches, idling away the waning day. Infants sat in pushchairs, being pushed by parents ceaselessly being pushed by parenthood. It was one of those days on which depression retreats to the shadows as if it were nothing more than a trick of the light, when being alive suffices as its own prized reward.
The path eventually wound up at Velky Drazdiak, the lake popular as ever at this time of year, replete with swimmers, with bathers in the water and the sun. A children’s playground was fully occupied, parents populating nearby outdoor bar tables. Eulalia decided to circumnavigate the lake, counterclockwise, passing by further kiosks on her right selling drinks and food. Past the sauna she went, the exterior of which was adorned with photos of its happy customers, including one of male visitors unselfconsciously baring their nuts, a snap that never failed to make Eulalia laugh.
Past the Oaza restaurant she went, past the tennis courts, past anglers the fish reeled to the water’s edge like prize catches. She circled the lake at its south side, past Hotel Bonbon, around to its east bank where nature was for the large part left alone to decorate the water’s edge. A family of swans glided by, silent and graceful as the six stars of the Northern Cross. Eulalia crouched down, watching the waterbirds swimming past, looking at the mild wake they left, gazing out across the gently eddying surface of the lake, at the reflection of her aging face in the timeless quality of this relaxing place.
Flies skimmed across the water’s surface, the odd leaf served as eco-friendly flotsam. Eulalia’s mind was free to wander into the pages of the books she loved, but for now was contentedly buoyed in the here and now, like a gaily-coloured fisherman’s float patiently bobbing up and down.
The longer she stared into the water, the more she perceived in its visual offerings, and the more distinctly she could spot the odd fish swimming close to the surface of its depths. For a moment she was reminded of her favourite picture, Three Worlds, by the Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelius Escher. The image shows the surface of a natural body of water upon which leaves float, with the reflections of bare trees on its surface, and a fish swimming beneath the leaves. The picture, a black and white lithograph, was both beautiful and sad, for her a depiction of loneliness and at the same time illustrating the intrinsic relationship to each other all things have in the world, however isolated or indifferent they might seem.
And then something strange happened. Just as she was meditating on the picture, it was as if the picture suddenly came to life and entered her external world. There was the silver grey flash of a fish beneath the floating leaves, a flash that disappeared and then reappeared, and then started growing in size. It continued to grow, covering an area larger than the swans did swimming away in the distance, and still it did not stop. It expanded to the size of a person and then to the size of a rowing boat. Eulalia gasped, frowning. What was it? Of course! A boat was what it was, it must be a sunken boat suddenly floating to the surface. But that did not make sense, and as if to prove the point it expanded still, its body now so close to the surface, she could see the latticework of scales proving it to be organic and seemingly alive.
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